The Loyola men's lacrosse team knew it was in for a good day when some of its most productive options on offense were defensive players.
Long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff led all scorers with four goals and short-stick defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins added a pair of goals to power the reigning national champion Greyhounds to a 13-7 victory over visiting Fairfield in an Eastern College Athletic Conference showdown before an announced crowd of 2,124 at Ridley Athletic Complex on Saturday.
Ratliff's performance should not be all that stunning considering that he finished last year with 12 goals and seven assists. But the senior, who upped his season total to 11 goals and three assists, may be the first long pole to score four times in an NCAA contest.
"They were all good looks that I would expect myself to finish," he said. "That comes from my teammates creating them — [junior attackman] Justin [Ward] with some great passes, Josh and [junior defenseman Joe Fletcher] both picking up ground balls and getting out on transition where we can get open. Luckily, they fell for me today."
Ratliff, who also caused four turnovers and scooped up three ground balls, made his contributions in a variety of ways. His first goal occurred when junior faceoff specialist Brendan Donovan won the draw and flipped the ground ball to Ratliff, who raced to the right point and whistled it home to give Loyola (9-2 overall and 5-0 conference) a 2-1 lead with 8 minutes, 35 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Ratliff's second goal came in a six-on-six situation. Sophomore attackman Nikko Pontrello carried the ball to the right point and threaded a pass to Ratliff, who scored after running in from the right wing toward the cage. That goal gave the Greyhounds a 6-2 advantage with 23 seconds remaining.
Ratliff cemented the first hat trick of his career when Ward (two goals and two assists) centered the ball to Ratliff in the high slot and he hammered it into the net to give Loyola an 8-3 lead with 9:12 left in the second quarter.
His final tally came with 12:44 remaining in the third period when he and junior short-stick defensive midfielder Pat Laconi worked a perfect give-and-go in transition.
The Greyhounds have boasted a strong line of long-stick midfielders including P.T. Ricci and current defensive coordinator Matt Dwan. But coach Charley Toomey was at a loss to find a comparison for Ratliff's effort.
"We've had some good ones here, and that's certainly one of the best performances that I've seen," Toomey said. "I think it's a unit, and I think earlier in the year, I said that we had one of the best units in the country. Scott's very quick to give his teammates credit. Without some of the athleticism, without Fletch winning some ground balls there and just giving us those opportunities to run, they make each other better. Like Scott said, he just happened to be on the finishing end of a few great looks today."
Ratliff got some company on the scoreboard from Hawkins, who scored in the second and third quarters. Despite missing the first seven games of the season, the senior has now scored five goals, which is just one shy of a career high set in 2010 and matched in 2012.
"I want to be on the field as much as I can be," he said. "When we start scoring in transition, I definitely want to get in there and get some myself. But I was happy for Scott. He played awesome, and the opportunities were there. When I got my opportunities, we finished them also."
Junior attackman Eric Warden scored two goals and senior attackman Sam Snow chipped in with a goal and assist, but Fairfield dropped its second consecutive game against a conference opponent while falling to 6-5 overall and 2-2 in the ECAC.
Coach Andy Copelan pointed to Ratliff as the key to Loyola's win.
"It's tough to practice and mimic Scott Ratliff," Copelan said. "He is as good as they come. It's frustrating that you talk all week and you practice all week defending transition because you know how much of a staple that is of Loyola's game. The fact that we weren't able to execute under the real thing, that was a little bit of a deflating feeling."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun